Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Greetings, Favored One!

Readings for this week:  2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46-55;  Romans, 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38 (0r 26-55)  

Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you!
Favored one?  Favored how?

She’s just an ordinary 13 year old girl.  She lives in an ordinary village, no different from the hundreds of peasant villages in the region.  She’s got ordinary peasant parents, and an ordinary family.  She’s betrothed like most of the other 13 year old girls in her first century Palestine village to an ordinary man from the same village.  There’s nothing special about her.  Even her name – Miriam,(Mary) – is ordinary.  Everyone in Judea names a daughter after Miriam, Moses’ sister, a strong woman, a prophetess, a hero of the faith. 
She’ just ordinary, plain, old Mary.  She’s not the type of person who gets messaged from angels.  Yet, here’s an angel with a message for her.  His greeting confuses her - she doesn’t feel favored at all. 

After the angel’s next words, she’s not sure she wants to be favored.  Being favored by God in this case means she’s going to be an unmarried pregnant teen.  And while the prophecy about her son-to-be sounds wonderful – Son of God, king in the line of David, a kingdom that lasts forever – she’s pretty sure her parents and her fiancé, Joseph, are not going to like this so-called favored status.  Who’s going to believe that she got pregnant by God?  The small town talk will spread like wildfire.
“What? Me? How?”  She knows, of course, how women get pregnant.  She’s betrothed, practically married, although not living with Joseph yet.  This news is so astonishing, so incredible, so mind-boggling, the question sputters out as she struggles to understand just what the angel is telling her.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”   
“The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

For nothing will be impossible with God.”

What is she getting herself into?  Is she strong enough, good enough, wise enough, anything enough for this?  But, then, does it matter?  Because God’s spirit will come over her and God has promised to overshadow her – to protect her, to sustain her, to go with her.  She may not be enough, but God is. 
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

And in her ‘yes’ to God, Mary is transformed.

She has to see for herself if the angel is right about Elizabeth.  Amazing that Elizabeth would after all these years of childless marriage, finally be pregnant.  Just like Abraham and Sarah, barren for so long and then God gives them Isaac in their old age.  Like Hannah, who prays for God to remove her barrenness and give her a child, Samuel, who becomes one of Israel’s greatest prophets.  These are pregnancies of miracle – life where there was no possibility of life.
She greets Elizabeth, unmistakably pregnant. Elizabeth gasps, and says her baby leaped for joy to be in the presence of the child Mary herself is carrying.  Mary hasn’t even said that she is pregnant, but Elizabeth knows Mary is carrying God’s Son, because the unborn John is already testifying, pointing to Jesus. 

Mary, ordinary Mary, breaks into song, becoming a prophet, proclaiming God’s mercy and justice, God’s in-breaking into the world and upsetting the powers of evil and oppression.

“Let it be with me according to your word.”

Sure there were moments of doubt, of uncertainty, times she did not understand.  She pondered and prayed – a lot.  She fretted when 12 year old Jesus went missing, only to be found in the temple.  At one point in his ministry, his radical teachings and the rumors she heard made her certain Jesus was insane and needed to come home.  She cried out to God in pain and doubt, wondering where the promise went as she watched Jesus breathe his last. 
But through it all, she remembered the angel’s words:

 The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”
“The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Mary, ordinary Mary, becomes a strong woman, capable to the task of raising God’s Son, of guiding him as he begins his ministry, of standing by him as he suffers on the cross.

Mary, ordinary Mary, becomes a hero of the faith.

Peasant girl to prophetess, maiden to Mother of God – in telling the story, Mary becomes larger than life.  She is the model of perfect obedience and quiet acceptance of God’s will. 
In making Mary into a saint, we lose something.  When Mary becomes this extra-ordinary example of faith, we forget that God works through the most unlikely of people.  We get to sit back and enjoy the story of Mary’s great faith, safe from the possibility of God interrupting our ordinary lives. 

Is this story just a once upon a time happening? 
Or do we believe that God still breaks into the world, using ordinary people like you and me?

Because if we believe that God still breaks into the world and calls ordinary people to build up the kingdom of God, then the angel’s words to Mary are also addressed to us:
Greetings, favored ones!  The Lord is with you!

True, I’m no angel.  But by virtue of the God’s call, and the call this congregation has issued to me, I act as a messenger of God.  Again, I say to you:
Greetings, favored ones!  The Lord is with you!

I imagine you’re thinking:  What me, favored?  I’m just an ordinary person.  I’m just a teen age girl.  I’m just a high school boy.  I’m just a farmer.  I’m just a mom.  I’m just a retired person.  I’m just a bank employee, or a factory worker, or a waitress, or – well you fill in the blank. 
There’s nothing special about me.  I come from an ordinary family in a small town, in a rural part of South Dakota.    I have no special skills, no talents.  I have trouble getting around, or I have health problems – or whatever you have that you think limits how God can use you.

I say again:
Greetings, favored ones!  The Lord is with you!

You are favored.  God has favored you, has a purpose for you even before you were born, has called you in the waters of baptism.   God’s favor and grace rests on you.
God plans to use you to do marvelous, wondrous things. 

Yes, you.
 And you.

 And you.

You are favored and you are called.  I invite you to ponder and pray, to puzzle and dream, to look around with expectancy and hope this week before Christmas.  What is it that God has called you to do? Where has God invited you to make a difference, to bring the kingdom of heaven a little bit closer to earth?

I invite you to respond to the angel’s message, and to God’s call.
"Greetings, favored ones. The Lord is with you and intends to do great things through you.

To this you may want feel like saying: "How can this be? We are ordinary, everyday people."

"Yet you have found favor through God, and the Holy Spirit will come upon you, guide you, and work through you to care for this world and people God loves so much. For nothing is impossible with God.

Mary’s words become our own:  "Here am I, a servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word."[i]

[i]  Adapted from David Lose’s commentary, used by permission.


  1. I too liked David Lose's commentary...and tagged some of it in mine as well. Nice move to bring the ordinary back to the local-flavor-community.

  2. You had me at "Favored one. How?" How is this call by God a favor to me or make me a favor to anyone? Sometimes this is my question. You inspired me to know that, with God doing the calling, It's good enough and I'm part of the plan (somehow!). Wondering if that's what Mary thought, too!


  3. I like the dialogue back and forth with the text. Nice way to engage it.